Britain cannot afford to become a bit-part player in the new Arctic battleground

Russian aggression in the High North has exposed the danger of running down the UK's anti-submarine and maritime patrol capability

George Allison for the Telegraph

20 May 2021

George Allison is the editor of the UK Defence Journal

If Russia's malign intentions in the Arctic were not already clear, Vladimir Putin this week sent a series of signal that no responsible Western nation, least of all Britain, can afford to ignore. Designed to coincide with a meeting of the Arctic Council, Russia's PR machine has been in overdrive, with foreign journalists invited to visit its snow-bound military base in Franz Josef Land, deep inside the Arctic circle, and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warning its rivals in bellicose terms against staking their own claims to the region.

While only a relatively small fraction of maritime shipping transits through the Arctic today, the thawing of the region has increased its geopolitical and economic importance. Now, key strategic chokepoints – including the Bering Strait, the Bear Gap, and, most significantly for Britain, the "Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom" gap – are becoming more relevant. All this is a worrying sign for Britain, whose geographical position means it can ill afford a Russia-controlled Arctic and yet risks being squeezed out militarily.

Three years ago, an official report by the Defence Select Committee identified the Arctic and High North as an area of concern, largely because Russia's military expansion in the region has become increasingly clear. While the ability to monitor, patrol and act in the Arctic region has long been a core task of the British armed forces, the reduction of the UK’s anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol capability over the last couple of decades has badly affected our ability to respond.

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Britain cannot afford to become a bit-pa
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